Activity Theory

Activity theory (AT) is an umbrella term for a line of eclectic social sciences theories and research with its roots in the Soviet psychological activity theory pioneered by Alexei Leont'ev and Sergei Rubinstein. These scholars sought to understand human activities as complex, socially situated phenomena and to go beyond paradigms of reflexology (the teaching of Vladimir Bekhterev and his followers) and physiology of higher nervous activity (the teaching of Ivan Pavlov and his school), psychoanalysis, and behaviorism. It became one of the major psychological approaches in the former USSR, being widely used in both theoretical and applied psychology, and utilized in education, professional training, ergonomics, and work psychology.

Activity theory is more of a descriptive meta-theory or framework than a predictive theory. It considers an entire work/activity system (including teams, organizations, etc.) beyond just one actor or user. It accounts for environment, history of the person, culture, role of the artifact, motivations, and complexity of real life activity. One of the strengths of AT is that it bridges the gap between the individual subject and the social reality—it studies both through the mediating activity. The unit of analysis in AT is the concept of object-oriented, collective, and culturally mediated human activity, or activity system. This system includes the object (or objective), subject, mediating artifacts (signs and tools), rules, community, and division of labor. The motive for the activity in AT is created through the tensions and contradictions within the elements of the system. According to ethnographer Bonnie Nardi, a leading theorist in AT, activity theory "focuses on practice, which obviates the need to distinguish 'applied' from 'pure' science—understanding everyday practice in the real world is the very objective of scientific practice. … The object of activity theory is to understand the unity of consciousness and activity."

AT is particularly useful as a lens in qualitative research methodologies (e.g., ethnography, case study). AT provides a method of understanding and analyzing a phenomenon, finding patterns and making inferences across interactions, describing phenomena and presenting phenomena through a built-in language and rhetoric. A particular activity is a goal-directed or purposeful interaction of a subject with an object through the use of tools. These tools are exteriorized forms of mental processes manifested in constructs, whether physical or psychological. AT recognizes the internalization and externalization of cognitive processes involved in the use of tools, as well as the transformation or development that results from the interaction.

Read more about Activity Theory:  The History of Activity Theory, Theory, Activity Theory and Information Systems, Human-computer Interaction, An Explanation of Activity Theory

Other articles related to "activity theory, theory, activity":

An Explanation of Activity Theory - Learning and Tacit Knowledge
... Activity theory has an interesting approach to the difficult problems of learning and, in particular, tacit knowledge ... Activity theory provides a potential corrective to this tendency ... Engeström's review of Nonaka's work on knowledge creation suggests enhancements based on activity theory, in particular suggesting that the ...
Thomas D. Wilson - Research History - Activity Theory
... Wilson has been an advocate for the adoption of activity theory in the area of information behaviour and in information systems research ...
Nancy Merz Nordstrom - Social Gerontology - Social Theories of Aging - Activity Theory
... Activity theory was developed and elaborated by Cavan, Havighurst, and Albrecht ... According to this theory, older adults' self-concept depends on social interactions ... Activity is preferable to inactivity because it facilitates well-being on multiple levels ...
Denarian - Theories - Non-biological Theories
... Disengagement Theory This is the idea that separation of older people from active roles in society is normal and appropriate, and benefits both society ... Disengagement theory, first proposed by Cumming and Henry, has received considerable attention in gerontology, but has been much criticised ... The original data on which Cumming and Henry based the theory were from a rather small sample of older adults in Kansas City, and from this select sample Cumming and Henry then took ...
Criminology - Theories of Crime - Individual Theories - Routine Activity Theory
... Routine activity theory, developed by Marcus Felson and Lawrence Cohen, draws upon control theories and explains crime in terms of crime opportunities that occur in everyday life ... Routine activity theory was expanded by John Eck, who added a fourth element of "place manager" such as rental property managers who can take nuisance abatement measures ...

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